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Federal Attention Building to Address Social Determinants of Health

January 15, 2020

Urgency is building in Washington, DC, to advance policy to improve coordination in addressing social determinants of health, recognizing that factors such as stable housing, reliable transportation, and access to healthy foods have a direct impact on health and wellness.

A diverse coalition of 64 organizations—representing the perspectives of health care, education, social service, and non-profits—spoke with a unified voice in a letter to House Energy & Commerce Committee leaders requesting the committee hold a hearing on social determinants of health. As a founding member of the Aligning for Health coalition, the American Hospital Association (AHA) joined the effort to push for a hearing.

The coalition letter highlighted support for H.R. 4004, the Social Determinants Accelerator Act of 2019, which would support states and communities in improving the coordination of health and non-health services and best leverage existing resources in order to improve outcomes and advance cost-effective approaches. Pennsylvania Congressmen Mike Doyle (D, PA-18) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R, PA-01) are original sponsors of the bill.

Specifically, the Social Determinants Accelerator Act would provide up to $25 million in grants to state and local governments to develop “Social Determinants Accelerator Plans” which would target a group of high-need Medicaid patients, identify the outcomes to be achieved through cross-sector coordination as well as evidence-based interventions, and include a plan for linking data across programs.

Additional information about the bill is available in a one-page overview and section-by-section.

The Aligning for Health coalition also has voiced support for legislation championed by U.S. Senator Bob Casey and introduced in partnership with Senator Rob Portman (R, OH)—S. 1323, the Utilizing National Data, Effectively Reforming Standards and Tools, to Address Negative Determinates of Health (UNDERSTAND) Act—which would improve the collection of data related to the social determinants of health for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. The coalition applauded the bill, which would encourage providers to screen for and identify non-health factors that may contribute to wellbeing, helping to enable more holistic and well-informed care. The coalition also noted that the collection of such data at the federal level would help to illuminate health care disparities in the Medicare and Medicaid population, providing actionable data to policymakers to better target resources and support.

At the direction of HAP’s Board of Directors, the association has initiated a statewide effort to support Pennsylvania hospitals in identifying strategies to address the economic and social conditions that impact health. This federal activity could present an opportunity to support work underway in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania hospitals are investing in initiatives to meet the health needs of their communities, including through interventions that address food insecurity, housing instability, workforce training, and transportation.

For additional information about HAP’s work on social determinants of health, or to become involved in population health initiatives, please contact Robert Shipp, HAP’s vice president, quality and population health. Questions pertaining to federal legislative initiatives may be directed to Laura Stevens Kent, HAP’s senior vice president, strategic integration.